BISMARCK — Leaders in the North Dakota House of Representatives have called on Rep. Luke Simons to resign over a series of recently surfaced sexual harassment allegations, but the Dickinson Republican has denied any wrongdoing, hired a lawyer and declared he won't back down.
So, what happens now?
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said he's still hoping Simons will step down after demonstrating a pattern of "unacceptable" behavior. Simons stands accused of making lewd and inappropriate comments to a handful of female legislative staffers and lawmakers.
Pollert said a plan for deciding how to handle the embattled lawmaker's case hasn't yet materialized, but booting Simons from the House remains on the table.
The process of disciplining Simons wouldn't have to mirror court-like legal procedures since the case is not criminal in nature, Pollert said. Several of Simons' defenders have called for due process in reviewing the claims of harassment.
There isn't a precedent for ironing out the Simons situation, said House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, but lawmakers have three options for approaching potential discipline against their colleague:
- A special committee could be formed to consider a resolution to the case.
- An existing committee could deliberate the case.
- The entire House chamber could take up the case. This option has been the "most discussed," Boschee said.
The legislative session is set to resume Wednesday, March 3, but Pollert noted it will likely take a few more days for a plan to come together.
Expelling Simons from the chamber would require a two-thirds vote in the Republican-dominated House. Legislative Council Director John Bjornson told Forum News Service his agency hasn't looked into how Simons' seat would be filled if he were removed from office, but it's likely the local GOP district committee in Dickinson would appoint a successor.
Meanwhile, Simons is mounting a defense to the harassment allegations and the possibility of his ouster from the Legislature. An employee of the Boughey Law Firm confirmed that Mandan attorney Lynn Boughey has taken up Simons as a client. One of Simons' friends started an online fundraiser to pay the legislator's legal expenses on Monday.
Bjornson said Simons has threatened to sue him, but he didn't know what the basis of the lawmaker's legal action would be.
A woman who answered Simons' home phone said the lawmaker was not taking calls from the press. Boughey did not respond to multiple requests for comment.